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Creating a culture of transparency in the workplace

Creating a culture of open communication and transparency brings immense benefits, from innovation to engagement. But it requires buy-in across the organisation. Here’s how HR leaders can champion workplace transparency.

When it comes to fostering a collaborative and successful organisation, there are perhaps no qualities more important than open communication and transparency. 

These key pillars help HR leaders and teams cultivate a culture that embraces ideas, shares feedback with confidence, and engages in constructive dialogue amongst each other. In turn, such open and positive collaboration can lead to the creation of greater, more innovative ideas, more productive teams, and more satisfied employees. According to the McLean & Company 2022 HR Trends Report, employees who felt that their HR functions were transparent were more likely to rate their company as more effective. 

Why wouldn’t any HR director or manager want the same for their teams?

However, creating a culture that embraces transparency at the heart of its operations is easier said than done. Harnessing this powerful managerial approach brings many benefits, but it requires leaders to set expectations accordingly, from the off, and demonstrate qualities of communication as building blocks. It certainly will not happen overnight and requires systematic implementation and patience, among other challenges. 

Ultimately, however, it is possible with the right approach. In this brief guide, you’ll learn how to increase transparency and overcome any barriers that may befall you along the way. 

Benefits of Workplace Transparency

Leading with transparency doesn’t come naturally to every HR professional. However, as the de facto face of this new approach within the organisation, your team will be casting eyes on whether you practise what you preach. Promoting openness and communication requires you to demonstrate similar qualities if you want employees to reward you with loyalty and trust. 

If you need help to overcome that initial barrier, you may benefit by investing in some professional business or leadership coaching services to renew your sense of confidence, and refine your skill sets to instil values with confidence. Fundamentally, this boils down to understanding why transparency is so critical and what advantages it can bring to your team.

Promoting openness within your team, among other benefits, will lead to:

  • Increased trust and engagement – When your team feels that leadership is open and honest, they are more likely to respond in kind. By extension, their morale and engagement will be higher and will be more comfortable sharing ideas and suggestions, with executives that they know they can trust.
  • Better collaboration – Open communication channels allow teams to freely share information and work together in real time. This means that more silos are broken down, paving the way for more collaboration.
  • More innovation – With regular streams of free-flowing ideas, teams can solve problems with greater confidence and assurance and overcome creative hurdles more easily. Employees feel more empowered to offer suggestions when they are met receptively rather than with rebuttal.
  • Improved performance – A study found that transparent communication improved task performance by approximately 25%. When employees understand objectives clearly, they feel more empowered.
  • Stronger employer brand – Transparent companies attract top talent, and consumers who value openness and important qualities relative to your brand values. For instance, Lush’s handmade, natural beauty products are overt in their branding, while MailChimp highlights its inclusive marketing platform and user-friendliness. When a brand builds good consumer relationships courtesy of transparent branding, it can build loyalty in spades. A 2022 NielsenIQ report revealed that 72% of consumers feel transparency is crucial for brands that they buy from. 

It’s clear to see that leading with transparency has tangible benefits. So, how can HR directors shape a culture that embraces this philosophy?

Steps to Increase Transparency

Fostering a workplace that embraces transparency starts from the top. Invariably, if you’re in a director-level position, you may be well within your remit to shape the organisation’s processes and procedures to accommodate this. However, if you have a reporting line, you may need to earn the approval of the CEO, other executives, and perhaps even stakeholders.

Implementing policies and procedures to facilitate open communication boils down to a few key traits and strategies. These include (but are not limited to):

Lead by Example

  • Establish consistent policies for you and other leaders, to be open about business developments, decisions, goals, plans, and challenges with your own team. 
  • Admit any mistakes and faults, however minor. This shows that you’re only human like the rest of the team and that it’s OK to make errors and not be criticised for them.
  • Encourage feedback with open arms and don’t punish or chastise for negative comments or criticisms, provided that they are warranted. If anything, applaud and embrace it to foster a sense of belonging

Assess Your Workspaces

  • Office layouts can influence how collaborative and open your team is. For instance, a lack of communal spaces and partitioned desks can hinder transparency and encourage isolation. Use glass walls and keep spaces more collaborative.
  • Abolish closed-door policies, only isolating during important client or customer meetings. At any other time, encourage leadership that welcomes direct conversations from employees without the need to book appointments or follow procedures.

Share Information Broadly

  • Where applicable, eliminate the need for hierarchies of information. Share important updates and changes with all employees regardless of seniority and only withhold certain information for security reasons.
  • Eliminate the procedure of sharing data and metrics with those who only ‘need’ to know it and give full insight into open-source info like finances, performance, verticals, strategies, and challenges.
  • Consider rolling out weekly mailshots, newsletters, and offline marketing materials to show that you value your employees and what they think.

Solicit Authentic Feedback

  • Conduct regular meetings with each department and individual within the company, to ensure that all new developments are clearly and concisely communicated. Set expectations accordingly so that nobody is left out of the loop.
  • Issue frequent employee surveys on culture, engagement, and company policies as well as recent changes and announcements. Listen to consumer, client, or stakeholder feedback in the same vein.
  • Respond to feedback openly and with definitive plans on how you intend to address uncertainty, concerns, or new challenges that changes will bring.

Standardise Transparent Procedures

  • Take the time to get to know your employees and establish personal connections with all of them in some capacity. 
  • Establish clear processes for new ideas and problem escalation. Document how decisions are and will be made. 

Overcoming Resistance to Transparency

While it’s evident that transparency has upsides, transitioning to new processes and deviating from tried-and-testing ones can be met with resistance and hesitation from tenured employees. Quiet quitting has been widely linked to a lack of transparency and this problem will permeate if your brand doesn’t handle this change methodically, particularly during times of economic turbulence. 

Employees may worry that an increased focus on transparency means that they’ll be met with raw, constant criticism, which is why it’s important to establish that it will be delivered constructively and sympathetically. Some team members may also push back due to citing a loss of status and may even worry about their future. Address these concerns in one-to-one meetings and answer any questions they may have.

While it’s prudent to default to openness in all company areas, it’s understandable that some data like intellectual property, customer information, finances, and so on must stay confidential. Specify what can and cannot be shared externally beyond the business.

Workplace transparency is a powerful force that can open the door to a plethora of benefits for your team as individuals and your company as a whole. Understanding the importance of it as a leadership quality is the first step towards encouraging it among your teams. With a thoughtful, personal commitment to openness and honesty, your team will ultimately benefit from improved engagement, innovation, and performance gains through greater collaboration.

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